Harry Lee Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

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Edgar Allan Poe Summary

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Edgar Allan Poe: An Illustrated Companion to His Tell-Tale Stories (2008) is a short, interactive biography written by Poe’s distant relative, Harry Lee Poe. Edgar Allan Poe won the Edgar Award in 2009 in the category of “Best Critical/Biographical Work” and was a nominee for the Agatha Award in the same year. Harry Lee Poe is the Charles Colson Chair of Faith and Culture at Union University.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was one of the most important American writers of the 19th century. Born in Boston, he became a prolific writer of the macabre and is often called the Father of the Detective Story. With “The Murders of Rue Morgue,” (1841) Poe introduced the concept of the detective who solves crime through deductive reasoning (ratiocination), well before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet (1887). Poe also transformed the horror genre, dabbled in science fiction (although he did not invent science fiction, regardless of what the book argues), created a few hoaxes (including the Balloon Hoax), and wrote a variety of sonnets and other poems notable for their dark, gothic aesthetic.

Edgar Allan Poe is a hardcover collector’s item for Poe aficionados both young and old. At just 160 pages, this purple tome averages 4 and 5 stars on Amazon and Goodreads. The book does not contain any poems or short stories but instead focuses on briefly sketching Poe’s biographical details such as: his contentious familial relationships, including his stepfather John Allan; expulsion from West Point for conduct unbecoming; the women in his life, many of whom died of consumption; his poor finances, because he tried to make his living primarily as a writer; and battles with depression and alcohol. The book also provides historical and cultural context and explanations for some of his work. Overall, Harry Lee Poe strives to dispel the stereotypes around Poe’s life and death (stereotypes largely created by Rufus Griswold, who hated the poet and wrote a scathing obituary after his death).

This is also an illustrated book containing a multitude of photographs, including family portraits, original illustrations, and even movie posters. However, the major reason so many readers love this book is for its physical handling. Harry Lee Poe includes many facsimiles of archival Poe documents and memorabilia, including Poe’s parents’ “marriage bond” or marriage certificate, a letter Poe wrote his father regarding the lack of funds to maintain his education at West Point and his father’s terse note in reply, the page in the New York Daily Tribune containing the obituary written by Griswold, Poe’s army enlistment, etc. The documents are placed in envelopes, allowing the reader to pull them out and physically examine them. Furthermore, the facsimiles are reproduced to resemble the originals as closely as possible, down to ragged edges, fold lines, and holes. The physical aspect of the book and the facsimiles it contains means that whenever possible, the book should be bought new.